Addressing some of the key issues after Thomas announced on Sunday he will not report to the team until he has a new contract.
Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas announced via Twitter Sunday morning that he will not attend any team activities — such as this week’s mandatory mini-camp which begins Tuesday — until he has a new contract.
Here are some of the most frequently-asked questions about the holdout with our attempt at answers.
Q: What is Thomas’ current contract situation?
A: Thomas, 29 and a veteran of eight seasons in the NFL, is entering the final season of a four-year extension worth $40 million that he signed in April, 2014. That contract made Thomas the highest-paid safety in the NFL at the time. But he is now down to sixth in terms of average salary per year. That contract was his second with Seattle — he signed a five-year deal worth $18.3 million after the team selected him 14th overall in the 2010 NFL draft. Thomas is due to make a base salary of $8.5 million in 2018.
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Q: What is Seattle offering and what does Thomas want?
A: The answer to each of those questions is somewhat unclear. Seattle general manager John Schneider said he met with Thomas’ representatives at the NFL Combine in late February/early March. It’s unclear if a formal offer was made. But the team likely at least presented Thomas with an overall thought of what it might be willing to do.
Thomas, as his statement made clear, wants his long-term future secured, which likely means he wants a multi-year deal, and almost certainly at more than the $10 million per season of his current contract.
Thomas hasn’t said it himself, but it’s thought he’d likely want to top the $13 million per season of the highest-paid safety in the NFL, Kansas City’s Eric Berry. At the least, he probably wants to at least top the $12 million average salary Seattle gave Kam Chancellor — who plays strong safety — in an extension last summer.
Q: What can the team do now to penalize Thomas for holding out?
A: The timing of Thomas’ statement Sunday was meaningful as this week marks the first time in 2018 the team is conducting workouts that are mandatory. The team has been holding its off-season training program since April 16 and Thomas has not attended any of it. But the training program is officially voluntary and players cannot be fined or otherwise penalized for not participating.
That changes now.
Thomas can be fined up to $84,435 if he misses all of mini-camp ($14,070 for missing the first day, $28,150 for the second day and $42,215 for the third day).
After mini-camp, the team breaks for the summer before returning for training camp, which will begin around July 26.
Players can be then be fined for everything they miss from that point forward. Specifically, players can be fined $40,000 for every day of training camp missed. If the holdout lasts beyond five days teams can also then fine a player 15 percent of his signing bonus (which was $9.5 million for Thomas) and then one percent for each additional day up to 25 percent (it’s worth noting teams have the ability to fine players but do not have to, and fines are often reduced or waived once a player reports). During the regular season, players are paid weekly and Thomas would get docked 1/17th of his base salary of $8.5 million for every game he missed, or $500,000.
Q: Why doesn’t Thomas just play out his contract?
A: As Thomas wrote, he wants “to have certainty in regards to the upcoming years’’ of his career.
While the majority of players do play out their contracts without an extension, players the caliber of Thomas — generally considered a likely Hall of Famer after having already made six Pro Bowls in eight years, which is fourth-most in Seattle history — typically work on long-term deals during the prime of their careers.
And Seattle has set a precedent during the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era of extending their “core’’ players — such as Thomas, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, etc. — before they enter the final years of their contracts.
But that was done typically for second contracts and not thirds — a distinction Schneider made clear at the NFL Combine last spring. Those were also done when Seattle was in the middle of an obvious run as an annual Super Bowl contender.
The Seahawks appear likely to be even more cautious with their spending — especially big salaries on older players (Thomas turns 30 next May, or before an extension would kick in) — as they enter what Schneider called a “little re-set’’ earlier this year, but which others have characterized as looking like a rebuild.
Q: Could the Seahawks just cut Thomas?
A: They could. A release of Thomas would save $8.5 million for the 2018 season both in cash and against the salary cap.
But at this point, the significant spending on players for the 2018 season is also completed and the Seahawks wouldn’t seem to gain a lot for this year by releasing Thomas.
Q: Is salary cap space the big issue for the Seahawks in this?
A: Not really. True, the Seahawks have about $10.6 million in cap room remaining for the 2018 season, 19th among NFL teams according to OvertheCap.com. But an extension could be structured to actually lessen Thomas’ cap hit for 2018, and Seattle has a lot of cap space for the 2019 and 2020 seasons ($65.9 million and $124.7 million, respectively, according to OvertheCap, each among the top six in the NFL).
So Seattle has the cap room to give Thomas a new deal if it wants.
The main issue is simply whether Seattle wants to commit to the kind of long-term, big-money contract that Thomas desires as he enters his age 30 season and beyond.
Q: Would Thomas really consider sitting out the entire season?
A: Probably not since NFL contracts can toll if a player sits out an entire year, meaning start over at the point where the player began holding out. While it is not specifically stated in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, a case in 2000 involving former Seahawk Joey Galloway set a precedent that a player needs to report by the midway point of the season to avoid the possibility of his contract tolling. This came into play last year when now-Seahawk Duane Brown was holding out while still with the Houston Texans and reported seven weeks into the season. At an impasse with Brown, the Texans traded Brown to the Seahawks after he played one game with them last season (against the Seahawks in Seattle).
Q: Could the Seahawks still trade Thomas?
A: Yes. The Seahawks acknowledged listening to trade offers for Thomas during the offseason. But the most Seattle apparently was offered was a third-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys.
The Seahawks declined that offer, apparently content at the time to let Thomas play out his contract and see what happens, and also knowing that they could reap a third-round pick as compensation in the 2020 draft if Thomas were to sign with another team as an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2019 (picks are awarded based on a compensation formula and awarded the following spring).
The Seahawks could revisit trading Thomas — and likely will if he really holds out deep into training camp — but it’s hard to know if the offers would get better at this point.
Q: Couldn’t the Seahawks just place a franchise tag on Thomas?
A: Not for the 2018 season — the deadline for this season has passed. But Seattle could place a tag on Thomas for 2019 following the 2018 season if he is still with the team. The tag numbers won’t be set until after the 2018 season but it would likely be in the $12 million range or so. But given that that’s not something that could be done anytime soon, tags are not really relevant to Thomas’ holdout now.
Q: What are Thomas’ odds of “winning’’ his hold out?
A: Based on precedent, not all that good.
Seattle has had only one significant holdout during the Carroll/Schneider era when Kam Chancellor missed all of training camp and the first two games in 2015. Chancellor returned without getting a new deal. He did sign an extension prior to the 2017 season when he was entering the final year of his contract.
Running back Marshawn Lynch also sat out the first seven days of camp in 2014 before returning when the team agreed to guarantee $1.5 million in his contract that had been slated as bonuses or future salary (Lynch ultimately would have earned $1 million of that money, anyway. An additional $500,000 that was guaranteed to end his hold out was a bonus for rushing for 1,500 yards or more in 2014. Lynch finished that season with 1,306 yards. So in essence, Lynch got $500,000 he would not have otherwise to return from his holdout).
Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes about salary cap issues for CBSSports.com, said Sunday he doesn’t foresee the team likely budging, in part due to the fact the Seahawks appear in a different mode now than a few years ago.
“Based on history, he isn’t winning this hold out,’’ Corry said. “Look at Kam Chancellor — they didn’t cave to him and they were in the middle of a Super Bowl run then. You are either reloading or rebuilding now. I don’t like his odds.’’
Q: What is the safety situation like without Thomas?
A: Thomas has been the team’s starting free safety for all but seven games since 2010 (he missed five games in 2016 and two last season due to injury).
Chancellor has also been the team’s primary strong safety since 2011. But Chancellor’s future remains murky as he is due to have more tests sometime in June on his neck to determine if he can play again.
With both Thomas and Chancellor out during OTAs, Seattle’s starting safeties have been Bradley McDougald at free safety and Delano Hill at strong safety. McDougald joined the team in 2017 as a free agent and started the final seven games of last year in place of Chancellor, while Hill was a third-round pick last season. Hill is better-suited to strong safety so the team has had McDougald at free safety during OTAs — he started two games at free safety last year that Thomas missed.